The Hospitality of Toilet Paper

Several years ago, a member of a church I worked at came to me before a worship service and said, “Man, I will increase my giving if you can make sure the Trustee’s will buy softer toilet paper. That stuff in there is like sandpaper!”

It should be noted, this member was very active in the life of the church through the giving of his time, his treasures, and his talents. It should also be noted, he was being completely serious.

Toilet paper is no laughing matter. I happen to be a toilet paper snob. I prefer a certain brand…and a certain sub-category of that certain brand. And, if people try to buy a different brand or a different line within the same brand…well, I get very indignant. I make statements like, “you know I like _____. Why would you buy _____? Just buy the stuff I like! Are you trying to kill me?” Unfortunately, I am not exaggerating. Pray for Emily…she has to put up with a lot!

So, when this individual came to me, I found myself overwhelmed with a sense of compassion and understanding. He was right. That toilet paper was just like sandpaper.

And, in a roundabout manner, it communicated a message.

That message: We don’t care about your comfort in the restroom.

Now, some may say that I am going overboard. But, we have to realize that even the smallest things communicate a message…they have an impact on the overall experience one has when they visit your church or business.

Maybe businesses and places of worship should consider their toilet paper as a hospitality issue. Are you putting out your best? Or are you trying to save a couple of dollars by purchasing individually wrapped rolls that come in boxes of 500 and barely qualify as a paper product suitable for human use?

Last week, I found myself at Reardon Auditorium on the campus of Anderson University. Now this is a place that cost over $33,000 per year for students to attend (includes tuition, room, food service, and the ever important “miscellaneous” fees). At one point, I found myself in the men’s restroom. I was greatly disappointed. I expected more. Sitting in that bathroom, I did not find myself feeling welcomed. I did not find myself thinking, “Wow, this is a place that I want to send my daughters for their college education.” Instead, I was thinking, “I do not think my great-grandmother made a deal with AU for the land that this building is sitting on in order for them to put this kind of sub-quality toilet paper in their restrooms.” I was not overwhelmed by radical hospitality.

Now, I’m not saying that you have to splurge for the toilet paper that has lotion…but it would leave a pretty positive impression.

I’m just saying that we have to think about everything that contributes to the overall experience of our visitors…even the toilet paper. Yes, toilet paper…and the overall condition and smell of a bathroom…could contribute to the radical hospitality that a church or business displays to its visitors. What does the bathroom of your church or business communicate to your visitors?

“Offer hospitality to one another…without grumbling.” ~1Peter 4:9

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” ~Hebrews 13:2

“Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” ~Romans 12:13

Save File As…The Oatmeal Sermon

After the first service this past Sunday, someone suggested I file this message as “The Oatmeal Sermon”. So, here it is…


This is a difficult passage of Scripture to tackle this morning. What a quick transition we’ve experienced…We rapidly moved from a scene of joyous celebration to a scene of horrific beauty…Not long before this passage of Scripture, the crowd was heard shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Now we encounter a crowd shouting, “Crucify…Crucify” This is a scene of horror because of the amount of pain, suffering, rejection, mocking, torture, and humiliation Jesus endures. This is also a scene of beauty because of the incredible sacrifice and amazing love Jesus displays. For me, the temptation is to simply hit the fast-forward button…to skip over the horror…to avoid the pain endured and hop on over to the Easter celebration. However, I believe we would be doing a huge disservice to the Gospel if we didn’t pause at the scene of Jesus’ death…we’d miss the fullness of the story if we don’t take the time to pause at the cross

Ultimately, this is a story about perseverance. Jesus knew His purpose on earth. Jesus told His followers that these events would take place. Jesus persevered. Jesus is rejected by those He loves, yet he perseveres. Jesus is mocked, yet he perseveres. Jesus is tortured, yet he perseveres. Jesus is humiliated, yet he perseveres. Jesus is hung on a cross, tempted by the crowds to save Himself, yet He perseveres

I wonder how we respond when we face rejection, pain, suffering, loss – how do we respond when we receive bad news?  When the test we were praying would be negative is positive? When we hear that there will be more cutbacks at our workplace? When we learn that our spouse or child has made some bad decisions? When the people we love the most let us down? When the people we care about the most reject us? Do we look to God to give the strength and courage to endure? Or do we look for the quickest way out?

I don’t know about you, but I really do not enjoy being put in situations that require me to persevere. I would much rather not face difficult seasons in this life where I am faced with circumstances that challenge me at every level – emotionally, spiritually, physically, financially…

To be totally honest, I prefer not having to endure even the smallest things I face in this life.

Take oatmeal as an example. Yes, plain – old – boring – disgusting oatmeal. I HATE oatmeal. Now, I understand that hate is a strong word. But, I stand by my statement. I absolutely detest the stuff. If you are here this morning and you enjoy oatmeal…Well, I will pray for you…I’ll work you into my counseling schedule this week. If I have failed to make myself clear, let me state again, I hate oatmeal. Don’t even get me started on the variety packs…maple brown sugar, cinnamon and spice, apples and cinnamon, blueberry cream…all of it is simply wrong.

So, wouldn’t you know it…Not too long ago, my family doctor called. He gave me the usually doctor line of, “Due to your family history and some elevated numbers on your last test, I want you to adjust your diet a bit. You need to eat a bowl of oatmeal each morning, eat plenty of vegetables…lots of greens, and exercise 5 times a week for 45 minutes. You know, I am completely fine with eating salads and carrot sticks. And, I enjoy getting outside or hitting the gym for 45 minutes throughout the week. But, I have to draw the line somewhere. And, I draw the line at oatmeal. Oatmeal? Really? This guy must be getting kickbacks from Quaker Oats. Who does he think he is, Wilford Brimley?

The next morning, I sat down with a bowl of plain, boring, disgusting oatmeal. All this accomplished was to affirm the fact that oatmeal is an inappropriate food source.

The following morning, I decided that I would doctor up that bowl…make it a bit more appetizing. I threw in a handful of chocolate chips…and a handful of butterscotch chips. And, you know what? It was awesome. It tasted like a ridiculously soft and mushy cookie.

Sure, I was cutting some corners. But, technically, I was still eating oatmeal. So, when the doctor asks the question, “Have you been eating oatmeal, vegetables, and getting exercise” I can reply, “Yes sir!”

Of course, I am fully aware that cutting corners probably defeats the purpose of eating oatmeal in the first place.

You know, many of us do this with God all the time. He calls us to live our lives in a certain way, and we search for ways to make the uncomfortable comfortable. He calls us to serve, we say “I’m busy, I’ll do it later.” He calls us to give, we say, “Things are tight right now, I’ll do it later.” He calls us to study his word, we say, “I’ll listen to Christian radio.”

Author David Nasser writes that, “In dying on the Cross, Jesus demonstrates that His commitment to obey the Father was greater than His desire for comfort and approval… When he calls us to follow him, we often reply, ‘Lord, you don’t understand. Serving you that way doesn’t fit in with my hopes of being successful and popular. I’ll wait for you to ask me to do something else.’ But ‘something else’ never comes. When we insist on God being on our terms, he refuses to play that game.” (A Call to Die)

Is our desire to follow and obey God greater than our desire for comfort and approval? Do we want to follow God or our own agenda?

If I can’t eat the oatmeal the doctor tells me to, how will I respond when God calls???

The decision to persevere is one about loyalty or disloyalty…Is Christ Lord of all – or just portions of our lives?

To be honest, I believe we reject Jesus (much like the crowd shouting “crucify”)…whenever we put other things before Jesus, whenever we fail to be obedient,  whenever we settle for things that are less than what God desires for us, whenever we look for shortcuts rather than enduring, rather than persevering. I don’t know about you, but I want to stop rejecting Jesus.

How do we persevere when we want to throw in the towel?

One way is to come alongside each other – as the church. When I’m down, you encourage me. When life is kicking you in the backside, I encourage you. Sometimes it is difficult to admit that we need one another. After all, in our individualistic society, we are supposed to be able to handle whatever comes our way on our own. Sometimes we learn the hard way that we need to let others help.

A couple of years ago, I had to have my wisdom teeth taken out. It really did not go well. And, it does not help that I am a wimp. I had asked the oral surgeon to give me his best cocktail…I didn’t want to remember a thing. Emily brought me home and did her best to care for me. At one point, well, I had to use the bathroom. The drugs had me in a state where I was not steady on my feet. Emily offered to help. I responded with one of those man statements…”I’m a grown man. I don’t need your help. I can do it myself.” The rest of the story goes like this…I’m in the bathroom for less than a minute and Emily hears a loud crash. She comes in to find part of me on the floor and part of me in the toilet. I needed help. I was too proud to accept the help. Let someone help you before you fall in the toilet. Now, my dad would say, “Well, you should have sat down.” Gee, thanks for the advice, dad! We need each other…from simple things to difficult things.

However, here is the best option. I believe we can find the strength and the courage to press on through whatever life throws at us when we stop and look at Jesus, when we gaze upon the cross, and we put all of our faith, our hope, and our trust in Him. When we remember that His love for the Father and His love for all of us was his ultimate motivation to persevere and endure all that He encountered.

Jesus was rejected, He persevered. Jesus was mocked, He persevered. Jesus was tortured, He persevered. Jesus was humiliated, He persevered. Jesus was hung on a cross, He persevered.

Remembering Christ strengthens our faith and love for Him.

Our love for Christ, and our belief in His love for us, should fill us with the strength, courage, peace, and comfort needed to face whatever comes our way.

Oswald Chambers wrote, “The cross was the place where God and sinful man merged with a tremendous collision and where the way to life was opened. But, all the cost and pain of the collision was absorbed by the heart of God.” (My Utmost for His Highest)

I believe that God’s heart continues to absorb the cost and the pain of whatever we may face. Let him come alongside you in order to help you persevere. Doing so will help us embody and demonstrate His love, His hope, His grace, His mercy, and His strength in our world.

The story of the cross should fill us with a great sense of hope – not only because we know this is not the end of the story – but because of the great love and beauty displayed by Christ. As tempted as we may be to fast forward to Easter, let us continue to remember the Cross, to remember that is was necessary struggle to gives hope, strength, courage, life, love, joy, and peace to those who choose to believe.

When we encounter the cross, are we filled with awe? Are we encouraged in our belief? Are we filled with hope? Are we filled with the courage necessary to persevere?

A Difficult Text

This Sunday, I’ll be using Matthew 27:11-54 as the text for the message.

This is a difficult text.

It’s Palm Sunday, for crying out loud. Shouldn’t we just be celebrating? Shouldn’t we just be shouting loud “hosannas”? Why do we have to talk about the cross? Can’t that wait until Friday?

The temptation that I am wrestling with is apparent. You see, in reality, I want to skip over the cross and get right to resurrection. I want my Sunday to be a loud celebration…not a somber dose of reality. I want my Jesus in a tuxedo t-shirt…you know…kind of formal, but He’s also here to party!

However, as much as I want to focus on the praises and celebrations of Palm Sunday…as much as I want to get straight to the Easter party…I know that we would be doing a huge disservice to the Scripture and the story of the Gospel if we failed to encounter the cross…the beauty…the horror.

When we remember the pain, the torture, the agony, the mocking, the rejection that Christ endured through the cross, it makes resurrection more powerful, at least to me.

Oswald Chambers wrote, “The cross was the place where God and sinful man merged with a tremendous collision and where the way to life was opened. But, all the cost and pain of the collision was absorbed by the heart of God.”

That’s a beautiful statement. And, I believe God is still absorbing the cost and the pain.

When we encounter the cross, are we filled with awe? Are we filled with hope? Are we encouraged to believe? Or are we tempted to skip over the cross and simply treat it as our “ticket in”?

Wherever you find yourself this Sunday or Good Friday, I hope and pray that you will take the time to encounter the horrific beauty of the cross.

Get It Together

Throughout the Lenten journey, I have made some commitments to read, study, pray, and worship on a daily basis. Each day, I have blocked out periods of time in which I can focus on these spiritual disciplines in a non-work related manner. And, as we rapidly approach Easter Sunday, I have been taking some time to examine whether or not this practice is bearing any fruit.

Honestly, it depends on the day…

There are days when I feel greatly enriched by the time in prayer, study, and worship. On these days, I feel that I am more inclined to get out of my comfort zone and look for opportunities to do my part to help spread love and bring peace into this world. These are the days when I feel closer to Jesus, my family, my friends, my community.

Then there are days when I feel like I am simply going through the motions…just checking items off of my spiritual requirements checklist. On the bad days, I tend to view this as a task to be completed…much like a homework assignment…and to be honest…I never really took homework seriously. On these days, I find myself less inclined to make any kind of positive impact on the world.

On the days when I feel like I’m not really connecting…when I feel like I’m just going through routine motions…I tend to find something to blame. I either blame the material I’m reading…the music or messages I’m listening to…outside disturbances and distractions.

You see, I just do not want to take personal responsibility for those days when I’m not connecting. Heaven forbid that I have some kind of breakthrough where I realize that the problem lies within me. Is the material bad…or am I simply not wanting to be challenged? Is the material bad…or am I simply not putting myself in a position where distractions are minimized? Is it that God is not speaking to me…or that I am not putting myself in a position where I am open to His voice?

Generally, the thing that is truly interfering with my ability to connect with God is me. I am distracted. I find myself wanting to write the whole exercise off because it’s just some kind of legalistic routine that is void of life.

And, then, I realize that God is working on me through all of this…because I find myself longing to connect with Him…I find myself longing to change…I find myself with an intense desire to change.

Throughout the process, I’ve been using a devotional that asks three questions at the end of each session. The questions basically revolve around what God is revealing through the study. As I look throughout the journal I’ve been keeping, I can see a pattern because almost every single day the answers are the same.

I see the need to become less selfish.

I see the need to become more compassionate, kind, gentle, patient, thankful, loving, and forgiving.

I see the need to be in prayer, worship, and study…because it continually reveals my need to change…it reveals my dependency on God…it humbles me…it corrects me…it inspires me…it encourages me…it restores me…it renews me…it helps me realize that I have a long way to go in order to “get it together”.

I see the need to struggle through some routines because these routines just might help me become more like the kind of person God desires me to be…

So, as opposed to routines as I may be, throughout this journey I have discovered the beauty within the routine. I have discovered a fresh perspective on faith, ministry, and life in general. I have discovered a new desire to “get it together”!

Do you have some life-giving routines that you struggle getting through? Do you have some routines that bring you great joy?

Colossians 3:12-15: “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.”